How does the Bible describe God’s instructions on how to deal with sojourners and foreigners?
[Darris McNeely] This is Part 4 of a series that we are doing on “What Does the Bible Say About Immigration?”. In this one, I want to talk about certain specific terms that we find in the Old Testament especially, and applications for people who come into the land who are not native-born Israelites, and particularly the instruction God gave in how to deal with them.
Let’s look at it very quickly here. Essentially, we can look at two different categories.
The first one is that of the stranger/sojourner. These are people who were not native-born. They were non-Israelite, not part of any of the tribes of Israel. For whatever reason, they moved into the land of Israel. They had no rights by birth. Abraham was actually a stranger and a sojourner. He called himself that in the stories about Abraham, as he was dealing with some of the other peoples in the land, even after he’d lived there for a number of years. But this particular individual for whatever reason finds themself in the land of Israel and they become part of the culture and the religion and the actual – they assimilate into the land of Israel. And this is a very interesting distinction as we look at what this particularly means.
We find that this is applied even to the time when Jacob went down into Egypt himself and applied for permission to the Pharaoh to cross over and to become a part of the nation of Egypt for a while. He said that, that particular time in Genesis chapter 47, he said, “We have come to sojourn in the land where there’s no pasture in our servants’ flocks” – the famine back in their home, he said, was very severe. So he said, “Please, let your servants live in the land of Goshen” (Genesis 47:4 Genesis 47:4They said morever to Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for your servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray you, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.
American King James Version×) Part of Egypt, at the time. So he asked permission. And they stayed there for quite some time.
There’s a very explicit teaching in Exodus chapter 12 regarding this class of people, and it has to do with a very solemn service of the Passover service. And what God tells the Israelites in regard to those who are their sojourners, it says, “If a stranger sojourns with you,” and this is the term that is used here, “and you celebrate the Passover to the Lord” – the very solemn religious ceremony – “let all of his males be circumcised and let him come near to celebrate it. He shall be like a native of your land.” (Exodus 12:48 Exodus 12:48And when a stranger shall sojourn with you, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.
American King James Version×) This is big. This is important because through circumcision you entered into a – you truly assimilated in that particular culture at that time, and God says if they went that far, then they are able to take part of the religious ceremonies. And that, my friends, is assimilation. And so, if they did that, then they had many other rights of and duties of being an Israelite.
Now, let’s look at the second one very quickly – that of a foreigner or an alien. There were another class of people who were to be found within the ancient land of Israel. These people did not necessarily become circumcised and take part in the religion. They did not necessarily assimilate fully into the culture. Yet they were there. Now we find also that there were different distinctions of them and laws applied to them in different ways. For instance, there are certain financial laws regarding debt, forgiveness of debt, and the charging of interest that an Israelite could do to an individual who was a foreigner and an alien in the land (Deuteronomy 23:20 Deuteronomy 23:20To a stranger you may lend on usury; but to your brother you shall not lend on usury: that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you set your hand to in the land where you go to possess it.
American King James Version×; Deuteronomy 15:3 Deuteronomy 15:3Of a foreigner you may exact it again: but that which is your with your brother your hand shall release;
American King James Version×; Deuteronomy 24:17 Deuteronomy 24:17You shall not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge:
American King James Version×; Leviticus 19:33 Leviticus 19:33And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not vex him.
American King James Version×). These people did not become fully assimilated. They had a homeland to return to. But for whatever reason, they found themselves living there and they might be subject to debt and to the full credit obligations of the financial structure without the benefit of a certain debt forgiveness that was built into the fabric of Israelite society.
These are two classifications of people and we see very clearly that there are laws dealing with the treatment of both of them, and at the heart of those laws, there is a humanity, there is a kindness, there is a compassion to those who came peaceably, who came and wanted to – did not want to disrupt Israelite society. God gave specific regulations as to how to treat them.
As we conclude this particular series on immigration, here’s what I want to leave you with. Remember at the beginning, we talked about the example of Ruth the Moabitess who, when she came into the land with her mother-in-law Naomi – when she came from Moab into Israel – she said, “Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. And where you die, I will die.” She embraced the culture and she became a part of it, and she added to it, and she built it, which is what the rich legacy of immigrants to America and other nations have historically done. But a nation must control its borders and there must be kind, humane laws to govern immigration and the treatment of those who come in and even a pathway toward becoming a full citizen of that nation. That’s how businesses are conducted among civilized nations of the world, and that’s how we see God conducting it even in the ancient world with His nation, Israel. The debate that we’re in the middle of in the United States and other parts of the world right now – it’s important to remember these biblical principles as you form your opinions about what is taking place, and understand that there is a God in heaven, and God is even watching and guiding the events of the world today.
Beyond Today is committed to teaching you that biblical worldview and helping you to understand what God is doing in this world today. And on this topic, there’s a great deal for us to understand.
That’s BT Daily. Join us next time.